Aromatic Medicine is a form of holistic medicine based on Aromatherapy. Strong smelling oils, known as essential oils, are used to treat patients. Treatments may be in the form of massage, vaporisation, topical application or ingestion. Although aromatic compounds are used for therapeutic purposes in a variety of cultures, aromatic medicine tends to relate to the western tradition. The origins of this tradition are very old; aromatherapy can be traced back through to ancient Egypt and even to Babylon, to the very beginnings of western civilisation.
The people of Ancient Egypt were widely renowned for their use of aromatics. They celebrated fragrances in all areas of life. After bathing they would anoint themselves with aromatic oils to protect their skin from the drying sun. At festivals, the women of Ancient Egypt would wear perfumed wax cones upon their heads. These cones would gradually melt, coating the women’s bodies in fragrance. Aromatic medicine was a part of Ancient Egyptian ritual, they burned incense made from aromatic wood in honor of their gods. Fragrances such as Frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon and cederwood were all involved in the protocols of mummification, the preparation of dignitaries for the afterlife.
The word “aromatherapy” was first used by French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé. In the 1920s he extensively researched the healing properties of essential oils following an accident in his laboratory. When Gattefossé set his arm on fire, he doused the flames in the nearest cold liquid, which happened to be lavender oil. To his surprise, he found that his wound healed remarkably quickly, and with no scarring. Later, Jean Valnet, a student of Gattefossé, continued his teacher’s work by using essential oils to treat wounded soldiers during World War 2.
Today, the use of aromatic medicine is most prevalent in France. In France the antiseptic, antiviral, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties of essential oils are emphasised over the more spiritual modes of aromatherapy seen in other countries. In English speaking countries such as the UK, USA and Australia, aromatherapy is decidedly more “feel-good”, with essential oils being used more to treat general stress, or as mood improvers, rather than to treat specific conditions.
Methods for applying Aromatic medicine vary between country. Low-level methods such as incense burning, or direct inhalation, tend to be the extent of aromatic medicine in central Europe. In the UK and other English speaking countries, the use of essential oils in massage, baths and skin care is also common. It is in France that the use of aromatic medicine is most extensive, with application through oral, rectal or vaginal means common.
What is referred to by the term “essential oil” is oil that carries the distinctive scent of a particular plant. The more common essential oils are captured by distillation. Steam is made to pass over raw plant matter, causing the aromatic compounds in the plant matter to vaporise. These vapours are directed to a special coil where they condense and are then collected. In some cases, particularly with citrus based oils, the plant matter is crushed and pressed so that the oils may be extracted directly. A third method of producing essential oils is through chemical extraction. In this method, the plant matter is treated with a series of solvents until a concentrated essential oil is produced.
Bergamot is a popular essential oil used in aromatic medicine. It is purported to affect mood by sharpening concentration and lessening depression. It is also said to relieve headaches and migraines. Black pepper is used to increase circulation and to treat muscular soreness. Eucalyptus oil is a common treatment for clearing the sinuses for cold and flu sufferers. For more information on various aromatic medical treatments, grab a copy of Learn the Power of Aromatherapy.